Album Review: The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream

Album Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra

“Boy, the come down here was easy, like the arrival of a new day.” That’s how Adam Granduciel chooses to open the new album from The War on Drugs after a minute and a half of dreamscape Americana. As the listener, you could say the same thing. The Philadelphia band have always found a way to worm into your heart one stifling guitar lick at a time, through their trademark mixture of psychedelia, shoegaze, and grassroots American indie rock. But never before has the band reached the sprawling, lucid, emotional heights that they bring to us now. Lost In The Dream, the band’s third LP, is out this week on Secretly Canadian. After touring Slave Ambient extensively, the band headed back to the studio and ended up recording the new album over two full years. Over the course of the new record’s 60 minutes, the fruit of their labor could not be more evident. The War on Drugs find themselves at a familiar spot for many bands, on the verge of a dream fully realized as their well deserved acclaim spreads globally. Now, as Granduciel and his band immerse themselves deeper, it's a beautiful and partly tragic sense of loss as the dream becomes all-encompassing. The result is LP3: a near-perfect mixture of melancholy wandering and driving, rock and roll inspiration. Lost in the Dream sees The War on Drugs at their best yet.

Just past the misty, spiraling surface of each track on Lost In The Dream, you’ll find some pretty classic influences melding into the sound of this record. On lead single “Red Eyes”, there’s a dual between reserved synthesizer and acoustic guitar that screams Bruce Springsteen. Granduciel’s impassioned howl to open every line of the chorus, heard elsewhere on “Under The Pressure” and “Burning”, begs the listener to come along as the band pounds forward with reckless abandon. “Burning” is another cut that mercilessly barrels forward without regard for what might keep you down. Emotionally opposing these are songs like “Suffering” and “Disappearing”. The former returns to the emotional brutality of The War on Drugs older material, spinning a broken-hearted country-rock ballad into a psychedelic masterpiece towards the end. On the other hand, “Disappearing” gets a spacey coat of new wave paint, as Granduciel sings a lonesome tale over a dream-pop dance number – the mixture is polarizing and haunting. The wild mood swings on Lost In The Dream are meant for the volatile and exhausted. After all, this is a record haunted by sleepless nights and the end of a long relationship for Granduciel, both of which can lead to self-doubt. But as Adam mentioned to the Guardian, digging deeper into the dark was just a way to write something more true and more inspiring. And thus, the spots of darkness on Lost In The Dream serve to better highlight the magnificent spots of light.

Songs on Lost In The Dream take their time to stew and spiral. Only two tracks on the record are under five minutes – most are up and above six. But The War on Drugs do it all without the verse and hook and verse and hook formula. Rather, each song is a circle that just gets wider and brighter and more intense with each revolution. By the end of massive tracks like “An Ocean in Between the Waves” and “In Reverse”, you don’t know whether to hit repeat or see what’s around the next corner, and somehow, 60 minutes goes quickly regardless. What Granduciel has created hear is an impressionistic landscape of his mind. There are peaks and there are valleys, but the view from afar is spectacular, and it wouldn’t be the same without a little give and take.

Lost In The Dream is out this week on Secretly Canadian. You can find it on CD and vinyl at your local record store. The War on Drugs are on tour in support of the record now, and will be in Seattle on March 28. You can grab tickets for their Neptune show here.

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